Are the Red Sox a fit for one of the top free-agent shortstops?
The market for the top remaining free-agent shortstops will heat up as soon as the lockout is lifted but the interest from the Boston Red Sox is expected to be lukewarm.
ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle used a tiered system to rank the best fits for shortstops Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, two of the top remaining bats on the free-agent market who provide strong defense at a premium position.
The Red Sox landed somewhere in the middle with a three-star rating. Nine teams were placed in a tier above them, including the division rival Toronto Blue Jays (four stars) and New York Yankees (five stars). This suggests the Red Sox will show some interest but aren’t expected to go all in for either star shortstop.
Here’s what Doolittle had to say about Boston’s motivation to pursue these shortstops.
"“Shouldn’t the Red Sox be in big on every premier free agent? Doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Still, with Xander Bogaerts in hand through 2025 (assuming he doesn’t opt out of his deal after 2022), Boston doesn’t have an obvious need for a splashy shortstop. However, either Story or Correa would upgrade the defense at the position and free up Bogaerts to slide over to second base, or third base if Boston wants to move Rafael Devers to another spot. There isn’t that much long-term money on the books. The Red Sox do have a lofty shortstop prospect in 2021 draftee Marcelo Mayer, but he’s just getting started. A big short-term offer to either Story or Correa would make a lot of sense.”"
Correa is the more appealing option from a talent perspective. He’s two years younger but has appeared in slightly more games at the major league level since he debuted at an earlier age. Correa’s career 34.1 WAR and 127 OPS+ top the 26.7 WAR and 112 OPS+ that Story has produced in his career.
Either player would be a massive upgrade defensively over Bogaerts, prompting a long-overdue position change for the incumbent shortstop. Story remained among the elite with 9 defensive runs saved this year but there were some concerns that the 29-year-old’s skills in the field were declining. Correa has always rated as a strong defender but shattered his career-high with 20 defensive runs saved to earn a Gold Glove.
If money wasn’t an issue then Correa would be the clear choice but cost will obviously be a significant factor. The Red Sox can afford the massive deal Correa will command but that doesn’t mean that they should.
Francisco Lindor received a 10-year, $341 million deal from the Mets last year and Corey Seager set the bar for this year’s crop of free agents with a 10-year, $325 million deal from the Rangers. Correa is younger and owns a higher career WAR than either player. It’s fair to assume he’ll aim to top those contracts. Doolittle predicted an 11-year, $385 million offer as a reasonable estimate.
If the Red Sox weren’t willing to pay that much to keep Mookie Betts, they obviously aren’t shelling out that much for Correa.
The $35 million average annual value, as staggering as it seems, isn’t unreasonable for a player of Correa’s caliber. But how long will he be worth that salary? Spoiler Alert: It will be fewer than 11 years.
Long-term deals of this magnitude rarely work out in the long run. As gifted as Correa is on the field, he needs to stay on the field to be worth that contract. His 148 games played this year were by far the most he’s appeared in since 2016. While he did appear in 58 out of 60 games in the shortened 2020 season, Correa missed significant time in each of the previous three years with various injuries. None of those ailments are lingering concerns but the injury-prone label isn’t something that tends to improve later in a player’s career.
It would be worthwhile to offer Correa a sky-high salary on a short-term deal, perhaps $120 million over three years. He’s not going to accept that when other teams are offering to lock him up for at least a decade though. The type of offer it would take to land Correa has the potential to earn a spot on the list of the worst free-agent contracts in franchise history if he declines halfway through it.
The cost differential could lead the Red Sox to have more interest in Story. He’s projected to earn a lower average annual value but more importantly, the length could be cut in half compared to Correa’s contract. FanGraphs predicted a 6-year, $150 million deal for Story.
The short-term upside with Correa is higher but there’s much less downside in the long run with Story.
Mayer is still several years away after being selected out of high school in the first round of the 2021 draft but the Red Sox still have to be mindful of his future. A long-term deal that creates a roadblock for one of the top prospects in baseball would be shortsighted.
Either free-agent shortstop would be a welcome addition to the lineup and solve one of the team’s greatest weaknesses by upgrading the infield defense. There’s merit to the notion of going that route over adding another outfielder. Enough to keep both of these star shortstops on the radar.
Boston will remain in the mix for these top free agents whenever the lockout ends but the odds are against them with so many other teams that appear to be more motivated and better fits.